Tigers take $50 million risk that Victor Martinez is rare catcher to age well into his mid-30s

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Victor Martinez’s reported four-year, $50 million deal with the Tigers would make him the third-highest paid catcher in baseball behind Joe Mauer and Jorge Posada, which is interesting given that nearly every other position has many more big-money deals.

Several factors keep catchers from cashing in more often as free agents. First and foremost is that there just aren’t a lot of great-hitting catchers. Never have been and likely never will be, which is why players like Mauer and Posada and Martinez are so valuable.

Teams generally focus first on defense behind the plate and the position also takes a lot out of players physically, so top catchers are often starting to show signs of decline by the time they reach typical free agency age in their early thirties.

Martinez’s four-year, $50 million deal would be very close to the four-year, $52.5 million contract Posada signed with the Yankees as a free agent three offseasons ago. Since then only one free agent catcher has gotten as much as even $10 million on the open market and that’s John Buck, who signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Marlins last week.

Martinez turns 32 years old next month, so a four-year contract would go through his age-35 season. Even elite catchers tend to wear down by then, so while the $50 million commitment isn’t huge in the grand scheme of free agency it represents a risky investment in a backstop. With that said, Martinez has less wear and tear than most 32-year-old catchers thanks to seeing significant action at first base. After logging 1,108, 1,233, 1,110, and 1,043 innings behind the plate in his first four full seasons he’s caught a combined total of 2,038 innings in the past three years, along with 763 innings at first base.

Martinez’s defense has never been a strength and teams have started to run on him at will during the past two seasons, but his offensive production is good enough for him to be an asset if a full-time move to first base or designated hitter is needed and in the short term at least the Tigers are getting a bargain. They may regret the four-year, $50 million deal when he’s still on the books for $12.5 million as a 35-year-old in 2014, but in the meantime the Tigers are getting an elite-hitting catcher for less than even secondary stars typically make at other positions.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”